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This morning I received a phone call from an unknown caller. I punched the number in Google to see if any hits came up. Unfortunately all I got was the long list of services that show up promising to give you more details on who owns the number if you pay for their service.

For example; http://www.youmail.com/directory/area/301/252?pg=57

If I were to pay money and sign up for this (or any other reverse phone look up service), would I actually get the name/address/details of the person who owns that number, or would it be a waste of money? If it does work, how do they get that information (e.g. how would they know my cell phone number belongs to me, if I've never publicly listed that information)?

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about the effectiveness of a service. – DJClayworth Apr 16 '15 at 17:52
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    In some countries, your phone number is automatically listed. Eg in australia you must pay to Opt out of the Yellow pages (with a landline at least), a reverse mapping from number to name is thus trivial to construct and reverse lookups have always worked for me. – Lyndon White Apr 18 '15 at 2:50
  • @Oxinabox Of course, you mean the White pages. – Mark Hurd Apr 18 '15 at 4:35
  • I've been trying to think of whether there's any good way to prove or disprove this short of doing searches on these companies' databases, which they probably all use different ones. – Sean Duggan Apr 20 '15 at 14:30
  • Some sites even say "free search" ... but they don't say: it is free to search, but not free to get the results of the search... – GEdgar Apr 30 '18 at 21:27
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Some phone lookup services work pretty much well. The most evident application and service is

Truecaller

Just like Whatsapp and Facebook, Truecaller was part of the internet revolution. Some people say it is the largest mobile phone community for mobiles. Truecaller can:

find contact details globally given name or telephone number

When a user registers for Truecaller, names and numbers from their contact list are uploaded to the service's servers for other users to look up. If you've given your phone number to a friend of yours, who saved your phone number in their contact list, and who downloaded the application; truecaller will automatically get your number. As more users register, truecaller indexes more numbers and names in their database.

As of April 2016, Truecaller's official website reports to have 2 billion numbers in its index, a screenshot from my phone:

enter image description here

Do phone lookup services like Truecaller work?

While Truecaller has always worked with me (anectodal evidence), I have to list public reports (which might be considered as evidence) which show that Truecaller works:

Techverse.net has reported

Using it is very simple, just install the Truecaller app on your phone from the links provided at the bottom of this page and as long as your phone is connected to an internet connection, Truecaller will be able to accurately identify any unknown number and provide you details such as the owners name and the place where the number is registered.

bgr.in has reported:

In essence with the Auto Search, users will now be able to get information on a number mentioned anywhere like a website, email or text message. All a user has to do is select the phone number, and hit “Copy,” and Truecaller will pop up the contact information related to it.

thehindu.com has reported also:

Mrinal M., a young entrepreneur and a photography enthusiast, swears by the Nokia Creative Studio application in his Nokia Lumia 525 because the software makes even photos taken using low-end mobile phone cameras look amazing with a unique set of filters.

”Another application which comes in handy is Truecaller – which helps track calls from unknown numbers. Being a food-delivery entrepreneur, I handle a large number of calls each day, mostly from people who call me for enquiries. Truecaller identifies these callers for me.” he says.

PROF. Review reported in a book published on Google Books:

Truecaller is replacing the phonebook to make it more intelligent and useful. It lets you search beyond your existing contact list, identify unknown incoming calls, block calls you don't want to receive, and make personal contact suggestions based on time and place – so you never have to leave the service to find the right contact.

mobileentertainmentforum.org reported:

After installing TrueCaller on an Android, Symbian, iPhone, or Windows phone, a main screen will pop up showing the three main options: call filter, search, and update phone book. The search function lets users search for public numbers, which can be saved to the phone book instantly. Call filter also has a database of phone numbers which have previously been tagged as spam by other users and will notify you when a blocked number is attempting to access the phone. Of course, a user can always put any number they want into the call filter data bank and avoid talking to individuals to whom they do not wish to speak.

In early 2014, Truecaller received a $18.8 million investment led by Sequoia Capital. In October of the same year, they received $60 million from Niklas Zennstrom's Atomico investment firm and from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. This gives a possible indication also that the service works.

  • So in essence, this service (and others like it) don't have somebodies phone details, until they are explicitly given it? I.e. they wont be able to tie my name to my phone number, unless its publically available, until I sign up for their service, (assuming I havent given the information to another provider, who may have sold it to them). – n00b Apr 22 '15 at 19:38
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    @n00b If you've given your phone number to a friend of yours, who saved your phone number in their contact list, and who uploaded their contact list to this service... – ChrisW Apr 22 '15 at 20:20
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    If the phone call is from a telemarketer, presumably they aren't giving out their information. – Acccumulation Apr 30 '18 at 17:42
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    Observation: I tried two cell phones against their database--in both cases it correctly identified the city but didn't give any more detailed information. – Loren Pechtel Apr 30 '18 at 22:02
  • Another thing to keep in mind with "crowdsourced" data like this is that a significant portion of it will be outdated, not properly correlated or simply incorrect. For example, less than 5% of entries in my contact list contain full names (about half of these are pseudonyms), the rest consists of nicknames, single letter entries, names of places or contact categories, and about 10% aren't up to date. – Ruther Rendommeleigh May 17 '18 at 13:31
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If the phone call is from a "legitimate source", then it is likely that there will be some record connecting the number to the person. However, if it's from a telemarketer, they will likely avoid giving out real information about their identity, and the number is likely from a burner and/or spoofed. Even if you connect the number to a person, there's no guarantee that the Caller ID number is the actual number that the call came from. Bottom line, if someone wants you to know who they are, they'll tell you. If they don't want you to know, you probably won't be able to find out.

  • Any sources for this? – Laurel Apr 30 '18 at 23:34

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